Love

It was 7:30 pm. A cool breeze gusted across her face. The intensity of the breeze kept increasing and eventually it poured cats and dogs. Everyone at the beach were taken by surprise as November rains were not a usual occurrence in Mumbai.  People started running helter-skelter to find a dry area. Most of them ran towards eateries at the entrance of the beach. There wasn’t enough room to accommodate a thousand plus people at the eateries. Being a weekend, the quantum of rush was pretty dense.

Rita was scared as she had ventured out all alone. She was a resident of Chandigarh and was in Mumbai for some official meetings. She was staying with her relatives at Kandivali, and was going to catch the return flight the next morning.

For about 2 hours the torrential rains did not cease to descend. Most of the people were drenched and were hoping for the weather to normalize. Rita had nothing to do but stand in anticipation for the rains to halt. For a couple of hours, life had come to a grinding halt. She had all the time in the world to observe things around her.

She saw a 40 year old lady – Bhavna, jostling away to ensure that her two children could somehow fit below a tattered roof so that they wouldn’t get wet. There was not enough room for Bhavna to fit below the roof but she ensured her children were taken care of! The children kept pleading with their mummy to move inside lest she get wet.

Twenty feet away Rita saw two puppies struggling to get below a tattered sack lying on the sand. But what she saw after that amazed her. An old uncle, Mr. Sharma helped them get inside the sack. He had adopted them just last month and the puppies were barely 3 months old. He did all he could to assist them but did not walk away from there, since he was scared that the puppies might get lost. Needless to say Mr. Sharma was completely drenched.

On the other side, there was a newly married young couple – Rupa and Rajesh, probably in their mid-twenties enjoying the rains. While Rajesh had removed his jacket to cover Rupa’s head, she used her dupatta to save him from getting wet. Love blossomed all around them!

Just beside Rita, a woman in her fifties – Mrs. Bhargava kept trying to call her 20 year old daughter to find out if she had reached home safely. But the mobile networks were all jammed. After a 20 minute try, she finally got through her number, and was relieved to know that her daughter was home safe and sound.

When it finally stopped pouring, there was a sigh of relief amongst the people. The crowd slowly started dispersing. However, the public transport was not completely functional due to waterlogging on the roads. Rita had to travel a huge distance from Juhu to Kandivali. It was already 10 pm – and no mode of transport was available. Rita got anxious. Out of nowhere a car stopped by next to her. The car had a family of four – a couple along with their twin daughters. Mrs. Sheth saw that Rita was completely wet and offered her a drop to Kandivali since they were anyways heading towards Borivali. It took them 2 hours to reach Kandivali, but Rita had a great time with Namisha and Tanisha – the adorable 5 year old twins who addressed her as ‘didi’.

Rita retired to bed post dinner and started reliving the evening experience at the beach. She visualized Mrs. Bhavna fighting the rains to ensure her children don’t get wet. She envisioned         Mr. Sharma safeguarding the young puppies below the sack even though he was getting drenched himself. She imagined Rupa and Rajesh romancing the rains and each other! She heard Mrs. Bhargava speaking to her daughter, and saw tears roll down her cheeks when she found out that she had reached home safe. She imagined herself in the car along with Namisha, Tanisha and Mrs. & Mr. Sheth.

Rita wept profusely with gratitude in her heart. She felt unconditional love envelope her. Mrs. Bhavna, Mr. Sharma, Rupa – Rajesh, Mrs. Bhargava and finally the Sheth family. Each of them kept aside their personal interests to ensure well-being of others. Each one had to forgo their self-esteem, their egos and individuality to provide unconditional love. They made the warmth within them shine bright as a happy radiance of love and care. “The greatest love that you can give to others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance.” – Brian Tracy

On her return flight Rita happened to sit next to Amita – a 14 year old timid girl. Amita had aerophobia – scared of flying on a flight. She kept puking at intervals of every 15 minutes. Rita knew what to do. She put her arms around the little girl, and asked her to relax. She helped her with a candy and said a little prayer for Amita. This made things very comfortable for Amita and the rest of the flight was very comfortable. Rita knew the universe was sending her signals to help. It was Rita’s chance to provide some unconditional love and she grabbed the opportunity!

On her way back home, she got chatting with the cab driver and she figured out that his son was in hospital with dengue, and was in a dire financial state. Although Rita did not have a lot of savings, she helped the driver with Rs. 1,500/.

Rita became more aware of situations around her. She became a source of positive energy for all around her. She tried making it a way of life. Needless to say the universe always returns back manifold of the energy we radiate towards it. Within 2 months, Rita was blessed with a job in a MNC with a 50% hike. She also found her soul-mate and got engaged within 6 months. She discovered her life purpose and walked the path.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

An evening at a Mumbai beach changed Rita’s life. But the significant point is that she understood what the universe was trying to communicate. She responded back with love and adoration. Not many people are sensitive enough to take these cues from the cosmos. Rita did. God Bless Rita!

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The Importance of saying NO

Peter was in a fix! While going through his agenda for the next day, he realised there would be no breathing space. His day was to begin at 5:30 am and end at 12 midnight! It was surely going to be a crazy schedule. After working out at the gym early in the morning, Peter had committed to a breakfast meeting with a few financial analysts. Post that, he had an important presentation to be done for the board of directors at office. This was to be followed by couple of back to back meetings with the Business Development and Marketing teams. These meetings stretched their original timelines and it was 7:00 pm by the time he left office. Peter had promised one of his friends Rahul, that he would accompany him for a Bollywood movie at 7:15 pm. Though Peter hated Bollywood movies, he couldn’t say no since Rahul was a very dear friend, and he did not want to disappoint him! The movie ended at 9:45 pm, and he had to rush for a family dinner. Peter’s cousin sister had flown down from the UK he did not have a heart to say no. By the time dinner was over, it was well past 12:30 am, and Peter slept at 1:30 that night. Guess what! Prior to dozing off, when Peter checked his agenda for the next day, he could foresee yet another demanding day – from 5:30 am to 11:30 pm!

This pretty much became a way of life for Peter, and it started taking a toll on his health. He was unable to pay attention to the more critical aspects of his life, since his knack of saying ‘yes’ every time would leave him no time for areas where he should have paid more attention. The problem with Peter was that he wanted to be nice to everyone every time!

Though it’s always good to be polite, saying ‘yes’ each time will make it easy for people to access our time at every possible opportunity, and they will continue demanding more of it. A fine balance needs to be drawn between the important and not so important activities, and then arrive at when it’s imperative to say ‘Yes’, and when it’s necessary to say ‘No’. To stay productive and reduce stress levels, we would all have to learn the gentle art of saying ‘No’.  “It takes effort to say no when our heart and brains and guts and, most important, pride are yearning to say yes. Practice.” ― Cole Harmonson

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By carefully observing we can infer that having fewer matters on our plate results in completing our tasks with superior quality. We are better prepared to face our situations the next day, after catching enough rest and recharge our batteries.  If our lives become unorganized just because of not being able to say no, we wouldn’t do justice by helping others half-heartedly. As they say, we cannot help others unless we are able to help ourselves. The best example for this is an announcement the air-hostess makes before take-off. We are first asked to help ourselves with air masks when the pressure in the cabin gets low. If we ignore this command, we would be unable to help others with their air masks since we would ourselves be out of breath! However, there is a thin line of difference between saying no and refusing to help somebody in times of need. “Sometimes ‘No’ is the kindest word.”- Vironika Tugaleva

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If we cannot say no on the face due to pressure, a gentle way of saying no is to keep it open ended and promise to get back with your answer soon. We could then say ‘no’ at a more appropriate time. Probably we could mention that post planning our schedule and giving it a thought, the particular activity/ task would not be possible right now. Most of us are ok with being told “no, thank you” — at least, compared to being told nothing at all. And if used in a kind, peaceful and respectful way, it may often leave the opportunity open to be explored again in the future when the timing is right. “Tone is the hardest part of saying no.”  – Jonathan Price

The greatest thing about the word ‘no’ is that it doesn’t mean ‘no’ indefinitely. It only means that it may not be the right time or the right opportunity for us to pursue at that moment. We are living in times where we have unlimited choices in life – be it career, food, fashion, entertainment, sports, politics, spirituality, education, cars, books etc. Hence it becomes essential to weigh our options and take informed decisions. One has to ignore and say ‘no’ to a few areas in order to excel in others. “Information overload (on all levels) is exactly WHY you need an ‘ignore list’. It has never been more important to be able to say No.” – Mani S Sivasubramanian

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However, saying ‘No’ is not a piece of cake. It requires practice! We should begin by saying no to people who aren’t right for us. Start saying no to things we don’t wish to do. Finally graduate into saying no to senseless meetings, pointless seminars, mindless food or liquor, meaningless rage and regret. “Learn to say ‘no’ to the good and the advantageous, in order to receive the best.”  – Sunday Adelaja

Saying no might appear difficult in the beginning, as it may seem rude or cause ire and disappointment with our family/ friends/ colleagues. However, it’s a matter of prioritizing our lives by assigning preference to the most important tasks and saying no to the others. Ultimately we have to realize that we have more things to do than we have the time to do them in. At that point, we have to choose the activities on which we must spend our time. Accomplishment necessitates a refined blend of assertiveness and fearlessness. Deciding to say a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ at the right moment exemplifies this. “Say no to everything, so you can say yes to the one thing.” – Richie Norton

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Since every situation is unique, it is best to evaluate the merits of each scenario and take a call if we  must go out of the way to help somebody if the person is genuinely in need. The emphasis of this article is not to say no to help people, but to organise our lives better by saying no to unimportant things so that we may achieve greater heights in our life. But while we harp on the importance of saying ‘No’, it should be complimented by saying ‘Yes’ to the important and necessary things. Let us pause for a moment and realize that a ‘no’ is not the end of the world. In fact, it could be a new beginning. So what would you say ‘no’ to today, in order to say ‘yes’ to something more important?

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Forgiveness – A Choice

Shravan and Vineet, childhood neighbours, lived in Cuttack, Orissa. They were the best of friends, attended the same school and had common tuition classes. Both had just finished with their 12th Standard board examinations, and had 2 months’ time to kill before the results would be announced. The lads, along with a few friends, sought consent from their parents, to proceed on vacation to Goa. Promising their folks that they would behave well and take good care of themselves, the blokes left for a 7 day trip.

While at Goa, they hired a car, as it was too expensive to rent a cab daily. Vineet had recently passed his driving test and volunteered to drive. The retreat was amazing, and the chaps had a jolly good time for the first five days. But a tragedy happened on day six!

The friends rested in their rooms and sipped on alcohol the entire day. They had initially decided to visit a casino in the evening. While Shravan and Vineet were still keen, the others chickened out as they were tired. Shravan too suggested they drop the idea, since Vineet was heavily drunk, and argued that it could be unsafe. But Vineet would not hear any of that. He forced Shravan to come along, and assured that he would drive slowly. They left the hotel at 6:30 pm and reached the venue at 7:30 pm. They had a blast at the casino, but Vineet kept drinking like there was no tomorrow! Shravan suggested that they hire a taxi on their return, but Vineet was adamant that he would drive, and promised a safe journey back to the hotel!

Unfortunately on the way back, Vineet lost control of the car. He pressed the accelerator instead of the footbrake; and the car rammed into a lorry resulting in a terrible accident. Both Vineet and Shravan bled profusely. They were admitted into a nearby hospital. While Vineet got away with a few fractures in his leg, Shravan was in terrible shape. The doctors were frantically trying to reach his parents, since they needed permission to perform surgery. While the parents gave the go ahead on phone, they immediately flew down to Goa. More bad news followed on their arrival. The complications were such that the doctors had no choice but to amputate his right leg below the knees.

Shravan’s parents were inconsolable. Vineet could not face them, and cried profusely. He felt heavy-hearted and guilty about the mishap. His parents flew down to Goa as well. They had a terrible showdown and exchange of harsh words with Shravan’s parents. The matter reached such a level that the families once very close to each other, were no more in talking terms. Shravan was shifted to a speciality hospital in Mumbai, and a Jaipur foot was designed and made as per the specifications of his left feet.

It had been 3 months since both the pals had spoken with each other. Vineet sent a few WhatsApp messages to Shravan, but they were unanswered. He was sorry and requested forgiveness through various messages, but it broke no ice with Shravan or his family.

A few months later, Shravan received a courier. On reading the contents within the packet, Shravan started weeping copiously. It was Vineet’s elder sister’s wedding invitation card, along with a rakhi stating “Shravan, despite whatever has happened; I hope and wish that you attend my wedding – Love Raveena didi”. Since Shravan had no sister, Raveena tied him a rakhi every Raksha Bandhan!

Raveena was getting married to a large industrialist, and her marriage was a grand affair. Shravan entered the venue along with his parents. Vineet’s parents welcomed the family, and thanked them for fulfilling Raveena’s wish. On seeing Shravan, Vineet ran towards him, and gave him a tight hug, once again requesting for forgiveness. It was an emotional moment for both the families, and all the past wounds were forgotten. Bygones were bygones, and the families bonded as though nothing had happened. Shravan finally forgave his best friend, and all was well.

This story at first glance might appear as an extreme example, and many of us can only aspire to hold the reservoir of forgiveness that Shravan and his family seemed to possess. But we can learn from them. Forgiveness is surely not easy. If it were easy, everyone would be choosing it. When suffering is persistent and extreme, the ability to contemplate forgiveness is implausible. “But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind” – Mohandas K Gandhi.

If we want a life minus burdens, without the excess baggage caused due to blame and anger, it is important to forgive those who have wronged us and move on.  Life is too short to be angry!  We control our own destiny and to let others impact our happiness is just crazy talk. We must learn to release the past and to forgive ourselves. Once we’ve learned how to forgive ourselves, we will be able to ask forgiveness from others for the ways we’ve harmed them out of our ignorance and suffering. “When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.”- Bernard Meltzer

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Letting go, forgiving and surrendering is one of the many challenges we face in life, and is truly a practiced art. Once we learn to let go, we open ourselves up to a sleeping reservoir of our own personal power and possibilities. Letting go allows for fresh perspectives, relationships and events to come into our lives and we begin to live to our true potential. Forgiveness is the practice of letting go of the idea that the past should have been different. It is one of the primary foundational pillars of being extraordinary leaders such as Jesus Christ, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. There are always multiple sides and perspectives to a story. We must try and give others’ the benefit of the doubt and assume they really meant well. Forgiveness is not about trying to make the wrong right, but allowing God to make the wrong right. “How people treat you is their karma, how you react is yours” – Wayne Dyer

We may ask, “What if the person I’m forgiving doesn’t change?” Getting another person to change his or her actions, behaviour or words shouldn’t be the reason for forgiveness. We must think of forgiveness in terms of how it can change our life — by bringing us peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.

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The bible is filled with many scriptures on forgiveness. Some of the important ones are:

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. – Matthew 6:14-15

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you”. – Colossians 3:13

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you”. – Ephesians 4:32

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? “Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” – Matthew 18: 21-22

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37

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There are many benefits of forgiveness. In his book Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman reveals that forgiving someone we’ve held a grudge against reverses the biological reaction. It lowers our blood pressure and heart rate, the levels of stress hormones, and lessens pain and depression. Many people also feel less hurt, and report a substantial drop in physical symptoms of trauma like poor appetite and sleeplessness. Forgiveness also leads to a strong immune system, and a higher self-esteem.

I leave you with a quote written by Mahatma Gandhi – “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”  Let us look deep inside and evaluate – how strong are we? Alexander Pope said – “To err is human, to forgive divine.” On a daily basis we can choose between forgiveness and punishment. In all situations, we can react with either love or hatred. The decision is on our hands. So what would you like to choose? Think about it…

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Temporary Failure vs Permanent Regret

Bhairavi and Ragini are twin sisters staying at Surat, Gujarat.  They were in their final year graduation, and were preparing for their CAT examinations. It was their dream to get admissions at IIM – Ahmedabad, and were burning the midnight oil to crack the all India entrance examinations which were just 6 months away!

Hailing from a lower middle class family, the sisters wanted to have their parents proud by making it big in life. They had enrolled in classes, and were diligent with their studies. Both left no stone unturned to turn this aspiration into reality.

However, destiny had some other plans!  The lassies met with a dreadful car accident just 3 months prior to the entrance exams. Unfortunately the driver lost his life, and the sisters got fractured near the spine.  They had to undergo back surgery. It took them around 6 weeks to completely recover and regain their strength. Needless to say, they lost precious time which could have been devoted towards preparing for the exams. The sisters felt awful and lost their self-confidence.  With only 5 weeks left to the exams, the family started contemplating if the entrance exams should be taken the next year.  While Bhairavi was sure that she would not want to appear for the tests unprepared, Ragini was initially in two minds, but decided to give it a shot.

Although Ragini appeared for the exams, she was not very happy about the way she answered the entrance exam. Once the results were out, Ragini appeared for the Group Discussion and Personal Interview. To everybody’s dismay, she missed the IIM – Ahmedabad admission only by 2 marks!!! She was heartbroken to say the least. Had the accident not taken place, she could have studied harder and secured admissions.

But as they say, life is unpredictable. Destiny yet again had different plans. Fifteen days later, Ragini got a call from IIM – Ahmedabad asking if she would be keen on taking admission in the premier institute. A few placed students had dropped out as they had secured admissions abroad. She could not believe this.  With tears in her eyes, she broke this happy news to her parents and Bhairavi.

What was the difference between Bhairavi’s and Ragini’s decisions? Why did circumstances turn in Ragini’s favour? The answer is very simple. Both the sisters had the fear of Failure.  But Ragini was willing to give it a try, whereas Bhairavi decided to opt out, resulting in nothing but Regret. Its noteworthy here that Ragini’s fear was temporary, though Bhairavi’s regret was permanent. “I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.” –Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, Amazon.

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Let us assume for a moment, that Ragini would not have secured admissions. What would she lose? I can’t think of anything. The hindrance is in our outlook towards failure. Failure does not mean a full-stop in our journey. It is only a minor hindrance through which we need to learn and move on. Failure propagates understanding of the things that need to be fixed in order to attain success. The question is, would we rather live with the regret of doing something and failing, or forever wonder at what may have been had we acted? Failure is a crucial element of progress. Success and failure are mysteriously linked. Success can be achieved after failure, but regret can never lead to the creation of anything. Bravery is accepting failure as an opportunity. Regret is lacking the courage to act. “It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” – Zig Ziglar

One of the beliefs that NLP practitioners hold is that, we should not consider failure as failure, but as feedback. If we treat anything that might go ‘wrong’ as feedback (rather than failure), we become more objective and can learn from it. When we label something as a failure, we look at it negatively, which hinders in achieving our objectives. It’s critical we understand that failure is not a prevalent condition; it is a stage which can be progressed though. Fall Seven, Rise Eight’ – Japanese Proverb

Failure promises the opportunity of reward if we learn through mistakes. Regret is accepting our current limitations. Success is never final and failure is never fatal. It’s the courage that counts. Regret is letting failure defeat us and never knowing what might have been. “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” – John Wooden

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Successful failure can be measured in actions and what we have learned from it, whereas failure without action leaves the possibility of regret. Mindless, ignorant and imprudent failure that we don’t learn from is ineffective. It captures our psychological progress and deters us from trying again. To succeed we need to ignore everything else and focus on the process of learning from our mistakes. I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done’- Lucille Ball

Life is not just about winning. It’s also about losing and finding happiness, learning from experience, appreciating the memories, and realizing that every step is worth our while. But we’ve got to be willing to take necessary steps with a positive attitude. We should make the best of our situations and available resources. Complaining won’t get us anywhere. “We can complain that rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses” – Abraham Lincoln

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We must be aware, that if we have gotten this far, surely we can reach better places. It is important to pat ourselves for the journey thus far. We should live with unwavering faith believing that all our goals are possible to achieve with sheer determination and positive effort. But the important thing is to try. It’s OK to fail, but surely not ok to live in regret for the rest of our lives. I would like to conclude with a beautiful line mentioned by John Green – “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” Think about it….

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The Uncomfortable Comfort Zone

Sambhav had glossophobia – which indicates fear of public speaking. Let alone a large crowd, the moment he saw a group of 5 unknown people, he would go numb and start fumbling with words. Even when he knew the subject very well, Sambhav would shiver at the thought of discussing it with someone or presenting it to a group. He was running into this issue quite often since he was in the first year BMS, and had to make individual/ group presentations every fortnight. He was in a shell until his 12th Standard, and managed to dodge the issue, but BMS was a course that demanded effective communication.

He started falling ill and remained depressed, fearing the upcoming presentation/ group discussion. His best friend Raghav, who stayed in the same residential complex observed something was amiss and decided to interrogate the matter. He asked Sambhav various times as to what the issue was, but he just wouldn’t open up. One day Raghav confronted Sambhav and forced him to speak up. It was only then that Sambhav cried profusely and confessed his difficulty. Raghav decided to introduce Sambhav to his uncle Mr. Sharma, who was a personality development coach. For three months he underwent extensive training in speech therapy, voice modulation, corporate dressing and public speaking.

Although the training helped Sambhav immensely, and improved his speaking ability, he was still unable to face a crowd. However, the good part was that Sambhav was determined to make efforts and overcome his shortcomings. As suggested by his sir, Sambhav prepared a 5 minute speech and read it out to Mr. Sharma daily for 10 consecutive days. On the 10th day, there was a marked improvement in Sambhav. For the next week, Sambhav prepared a 10 minutes speech, and read it out to Mr. Sharma and Raghav daily. Sambhav was initially reluctant, but started enjoying this process. Mr. Sharma then invited Sambhav’s and Raghav’s parents for them to witness a 20 minute presentation prepared by him. He was nervous during the first 5 minutes, but gained confidence with every passing minute thereafter. It was an achievement that Sambhav presented for 20 minutes at a stretch to an audience of six.

For the next 2 months, Sambhav prepared various topics and practised presenting them to his friends and family. Sambhav soon became confident, and did very well in his college presentations in the 2nd and 3rd year of BMS, and was a class topper in both the years. What caused the magic? What did Sambhav do differently? He moved out of his Comfort Zone. A lad who was always terrorized of speaking in front of a crowd, started by making small presentations to a group of 2 known people. That was the first level of moving out of his comfort zone. With passage of time, this increased to 6 people, then 10 to 15 friends. At each level Sambhav had to extend his boundaries, accept a new challenge and increase his comfort zone. His anxiety levels rose each time he presented to a larger audience. Sambhav continued this until he became one of the best presenters in class.

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Although people often refer to getting outside our ‘comfort zone’ in terms of trying fresh ideas, anything that raises our anxiety levels can be counted as being outside that zone. For instance, if swimming makes you anxious because you are scared of water, you’re not going to be comfortable in that situation. Although anxiety isn’t something we’re bound to go looking for, a little bit can be amazingly beneficial. We often need just a hint of anxiety to push us to get our work done, or to improve our performance.

Anyone who starts learning a new language, takes up a new sport, starts a new job, or ventures into a new business, operates out of their comfort zone in the beginning. Unfortunately, if we choose to remain in our comfort zone, we will never find out what our true potential is or what we are capable of achieving. Nor can we really flourish in anything without venturing out of the comfort of our safety net. A ship in a harbour is safe. But that’s not what a ship is built for.- Author unknown

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Of course, being willing to take a risk doesn’t mean everything we attempt will work out.  But as every successful person would tell us, it’s only by being willing to make mistakes and trying something new that we can ever accomplish more than what’s been done before.   “Nothing worthwhile has ever been accomplished with a guarantee of success.” – John F. Kennedy.

No one would like to move beyond his or her comfort zone, but that’s really where the magic happens. It’s where we grow, learn, and progress in a way that expands our horizons beyond what we thought was possible. Just outside of our comfort zone lays a space called ‘optimal anxiety’. It is a sweet spot of human performance and place where we’re motivated to succeed. Similar to an athlete who has just prepared and warmed up for a game, optimal anxiety is the space where we are ready to perform at our best. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. – Neale Donald Walsch

It’s interesting to note that Dr. Judith M Bardwick defines comfort zone as “a behavioural state where a person operates in an anxiety-neutral position.” Decades from now there would be people who would have achieved exceptional success.  These won’t be people who have stayed inside their comfort zone.  Rather, they would be those who have continued to stretch themselves, even when things were going smoothly, and who were willing to risk failure and looking foolish.

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Once we start moving out of our comfort zones, we would observe that we would become more resilient and self-confident. The process would keep challenging us to improve ourselves, and boost our mental health. This would surely enhance our experience of life. What then prevents us from moving out of our comfort zone? It is a simple one word answer. Fear! It is the panic in our hearts that stops us from moving forward. However, there’s a way to tackle fear. The more we go near fear, the more it moves away from us. So the magic is in attempting to try things we are scared of. Albeit, slowly and steadily. We must never rush into anything new but start gently and increase the levels gradually. Eventually, things that previously scared us will become part of our growth zone, then move into our comfort zone, thus helping us achieve more than we previously thought possible. “If we’re growing, we are always going to be out of our comfort zone.”- John Maxwell

If we can accept the truth about the world and ourselves, change whatever is holding us back, we’ll figure out that a single action lets us open the door of our self-imposed prison and walk free. In order to be more creative, we must try new things, see them in a new way, and then arrange the pieces together with a fresh perspective. This will gradually increase our comfort zone. There’s a spectacular world out there. We’ll see it, only if we try it!

At times, you may slip, but that’s perfectly fine. In fact, that’s the only way one learns. At the end, even though you might feel helpless in situations outside your comfort zone, you have more power than you think. Hence, you must give it an attempt. You will surely be pleased at having given yourself the prospect to learn, grow and expand in your personal and professional arena. The question is – will you?!

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Tuesdays with Morrie

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An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson!

Quite a few people had recommended that I read Tuesdays with Morrie. This book had been on my wish list for a long time. I finally got a chance to read it last month; and I am glad I did!

Tuesdays with Morrie is an inspiring book filled with wonderful life lessons, imparted by Morrie – an old professor who is on his death bed; to Mitch Albom – who was his student at university many years back. Morrie had an intense impact on Mitch while at the Brandeis university, but lost touch with each other after graduation. Decades later, Mitch learnt that Morrie was suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a specific disorder that involves the death of neurons that control voluntary muscles), and he would not be able to survive long. Mitch started spending time with his old professor every Tuesday, which rekindled their relationship. This went on for 14 weeks, before they bid each other a final goodbye. The storyline and lessons unfold week after week beautifully.

The brilliantly written book presents ideas that are engaging, poignant and thought-provoking. The best part about the book is that Morrie offers his insights about life, without being sad and depressed despite his terminal illness. Tuesdays with Morrie teaches us simple things in life which we tend to overlook and forget in the face of pressures that our modern culture brings. The narrative is a reminder of how easy it is to get bound in the treadmill of life, and the pursuit for what we think is significant.

Here is a summary of the topics that were discussed between Morrie and Mitch:

The First Tuesday – About the World

The Second Tuesday – About Feeling Sorry For Yourself

The Third Tuesday – About Regrets

The Fourth Tuesday – About Death

The Fifth Tuesday – About Family

The Sixth Tuesday – About Emotions

The Seventh Tuesday – About the Fear of Aging

The Eighth Tuesday – About Money

The Ninth Tuesday – About How Life Goes On

The Tenth Tuesday – About Marriage

The Eleventh Tuesday – About Culture

The Twelfth Tuesday – About Forgiveness

The Thirteenth Tuesday – About the Perfect Day

The Fourteenth Tuesday – They say Good-Bye!

A few note-worthy  conversations, which impacted me are:

  • Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And then they wanted to tell you about it. ‘Guess what I got? Guess what I got?’ You know how I interpreted that? These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.
  • “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
  • We need to forgive ourselves. For all the things we didn’t do. All the things we should have done. You can’t get stuck on the regrets of what should have happened.
  • Most of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.
  • Accept who you are; and revel in it.
  • The truth is, when our mothers held us, rocked us, stroked our heads -none of us ever got enough of that. We all yearn in some way to return to those days when we were completely taken care of – unconditional love, unconditional attention. Most of us didn’t get enough.
  • Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.

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Even as Morrie bid a final good bye to Mitch on the fourteenth Tuesday, something tugged at my heart strings, and tears rolled down my eyes. At the end, I felt as though I actually knew Morrie. He died with such honor and dignity.

Tuesdays with Morrie is one of the best self-help books I’ve come across, and it easily gets into my list of favorites. It’s a story about finding oneself when you are about to lose everything. This book is a game changer. My recommendation: Grab your copy and read this one, if you still haven’t!  It will definitely change your perception of life.

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The willpower muscle and habits

Shruti had been participating in the Dream Run of the Mumbai marathon since 2 years. She was challenged by her friends to register for the half marathon (21 kms) for the next event which was 7 months away.

Due to peer pressure, she did register for the half marathon, but developed cold feet 5 months before the event. She tried running on the beach, but could never go beyond 13 kms; after which she lost all her energy.

Shruti’s elder brother Randeep and her parents encouraged her to practice harder, and change her daily routine. She watched a few motivational videos on youtube, and got charged up to face the challenge. Her willpower seemed to be motivating her to go for it. Now there was no stopping Shruti. She started waking up at 5 am and go for practice.

But things did not turn out as expected. Shruti could not concentrate in her college lectures as she was too tired and drained out. The problem was in her daily routine. Shruti generally slept at 12 in the night and woke up at 7 am. The 2 hours of less sleep played havoc in Shruti’s life and adversely affected her health. All her willpower went in vain and she eventually stopped her practice.

Randeep consulted a fitness expert cum nutritionist to help out his little sister. Here is what the expert suggested:

  • Sleep at 10 pm and get up at 5 am
  • To drink 2 glasses of water and eat 2 fruits before she went for her practice
  • To carry a water bottle with her, and keep sipping on it every 15 minutes
  • To start with 10 kms and increase 1 km every week until she reached her target of 21 kms
  • To eat a wholesome breakfast with a protein shake after she returned home
  • To eat 6 healthy meals daily (a meal after every 3 hours) until the marathon
  • Watch motivational videos daily

Shruti diligently followed all the advice and tips suggested by her fitness mentor. She managed to successfully run the half marathon along with her friends, and was elated to say the least. Not only did she develop her self-confidence, she felt healthier and managed to lose a lot of extra weight.

Isn’t Shruti’s story similar to ours? How many times do we make up our minds about achieving some goal; but fall short and give up in between. We are often so excited at the beginning of every venture, but somehow the initial willpower does not last long and we eventually give up! Shruti reached her goals, only because she channelized her initial willpower into small but healthy habits. They were little things like sleeping on time, or eating healthy meals at the right time, but these habits helped her reach her goal. In fact these habits so got engrained in Shruti, that she continued them even after the marathon!

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The capacity to say “no” to the call of temptation and desire to quit is called willpower. You can make the willpower centers of your brain denser and better connected by meditating every day. Neuroscientists have found that meditation leads to better focus and self-control after just 3 hours of practice. MRI scans show increased neural connection in brain regions responsible for impulse control. Our willpower is not some elusive emotion to capture; it is a finite muscle that we can work only so much before it wearies.

To activate your willpower, you must remind yourself why something is important to you. If you are engaged in meaningless tasks or jobs, willpower will not save you. When you have a purpose and are pursuing a goal that has meaning and value for you, your willpower can be tapped into because you are committed to something important to you. When people have a willpower failure, it’s because they haven’t anticipated a situation that’s going to come along – Charles Duhigg

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Haven’t we often promised ourselves that we were going to finish an assignment, but seconds later reached for your laptop or the TV remote and abandoned the task altogether? We’ve all done it. That’s where habits are essential. With a foundation of willpower enhancers in mind, we must move to good habits. Willpower is important to get something started, but it is not sufficient to make changes that last. For that we need to create good habits. 

We already have a lifetime of habits we’ve created, so infusing a new one is a process. It takes about 45 days to establish a new habit in three phases. The first feels unbearable. The second is uncomfortable. The third becomes unstoppable. When you get to that third phase, the habit is making you happy. When you’re learning and developing a new habit, give yourself permission to be imperfect.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent—Calvin Coolidge

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Small but life changing habits we can inculcate in ourselves could be:

  • Eating healthy at the right times.
  • Meditating and deep breathing.
  • Sleeping and waking up on time.
  • Physical exercise.
  • Praying
  • Reading
  • Counting our blessings.

An important exercise we can engage in is to create a daily-to-do-list, for the rest of our lives. This will give us a sense of purpose and meaning to the day.

It would be best to take a second every night before we turn out the light and, in that moment, quit worrying about what we don’t have. Quit worrying about what others have that you don’t. Think about what you do have. We would then have a lot to be thankful for.

Another important change we need to instill in our lives is taking control of what we speak. E.g. Saying I don’t rather than I can’t– (for instance, ‘I don’t eat sugar’) instead of ‘I can’t eat sugar’. Saying ‘I can’t’ connotes deprivation, while saying ‘I don’t’ makes us feel empowered and better able to resist temptation.

Use the clock to help you. If you want to do something, set aside a certain time for it. Be specific. Not “I’ll do this in the afternoon” or “I’ll do this sometime before 9am,” but “I’m going to start this at 9:30 and end at 10:30.”

We can be motivated to lead a healthier lifestyle, and still spend our evenings with a bottle of cola and bag of wafers in front of the TV. We can be motivated to write a book, and still not get beyond the table of contents. What we have to realize is that it is only the combination of will power and habits that helps us achieve long-term results. If we use willpower to create a habit, we will have a chance to achieve lasting change. And because building new habits takes time and energy/willpower, it is best to work on few habits only.

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If we do try to form too many habits at the same time, we’ll end up right back where we started: shattered, stressed-out and struggling to accomplish our goals. In order to avoid this, we have to focus on one habit at a time. Take it one habit at a time and use that innate ability of yours – willpower – when you need the extra push. Once you successfully develop a habit, don’t rush off to the next one too quickly. Take a moment to celebrate and be proud of your accomplishment. Let the habit become a part of your life and then move to the next one.

I would like to conclude by quoting a few lines by Samuel Smiles:

Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny
.” 

So are you ready to flex your willpower muscle, and develop some life changing habits? Think about it!

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